Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters of The OC. They all belong to Josh Schwartz.

A/N: This story is AU and takes place early season one, a couple of weeks after "To Be Seventeen" ended. Also, I've written the character of Frank Atwood differently then how he was portrayed both physically and personality-wise on the show. In my story, Frank Atwood is not a nice person.

Just a little feedback regarding the reviews I received for my previous chapter:

To clear up some confusion, Ryan is sixteen in my story. This is a sequel to "To Be Seventeen" and in that story, Ryan told Kirsten he wanted to be seventeen. It wouldn't make a lot of sense to suddenly make him younger in this story. :-)

From the majority of comments I've received regarding Kirsten, I've gotten the impression that many reviewers haven't read "To Be Seventeen". In that story, Kirsten touched and hugged Ryan quite a bit and was very "motherly" towards him. In this story, Kirsten has continually stood up for Ryan and she has been devastated by her father's betrayal. Ryan has been traumatized by his own parents, not by Kirsten, and he has never faulted her for Caleb's actions. He had even stated his concern for Kirsten's emotional well-being. Dr. Evans told Ryan that when he got home, he and Kirsten needed to talk. Ryan agreed. I felt it was time for the two characters to be the way they were in "To Be Seventeen". :-)

I also feel that some reviewers misinterpreted the "shower scene" with Ryan a couple of chapters ago. Yes, he was being haunted, but he remained in control. He never broke down as he came to the realization his father can't hurt him anymore. He was telling Frank that he has a family who wants him and who cares about him. Ryan truly believes this now, otherwise all of the intimate one-on-ones with Sandy, the sessions with Dr. Evans, and his interactions with Wanda, Dr. Morrison and the nurses have all been for naught.

Since it's been awhile, back in the beginning of this story, Sandy made reference to the fact that he and Kirsten were looking into adopting Ryan. This was the catalyst that drove Caleb to seek out Frank and then all hell broke loose.

Everything I've been writing has been leading up to this final moment between Sandy and Ryan. I hope you enjoy. :-)

Chapter Forty-three

"So... did anything exciting happen while Seth and I were at the grocery store?" Sandy asks as he glances over at Ryan, then to his wife.

Kirsten looks across the table at Ryan, watching as the boy avidly delves into his food and smiles contently. "No, nothing too exciting..."

Sandy senses an air of calmness and warmth around the dinner table as he sits and watches his family eat. "Ryan, I know Dr. Morrison didn't place any diet restrictions on you, but don't feel like you have to eat everything on your plate..."

"It's really good," Ryan states as he takes another forkful of food, not realizing how hungry he was. "This is a heck of a lot better than the hospital food."

Seth blurts out laughing at his friend's offhand comment. "Dude, you just compared my dad's cooking to hospital food."

Ryan suddenly tenses up, realizing his verbal slip up. "I'm sorry, Sandy... I didn't mean..."

Sandy laughs quietly as he gently places his hand on Ryan's forearm and leans in, noting the boy's sudden apprehension. "No need to apologize... I know what you meant."

Ryan looks up at Sandy, observing the man's warm eyes and cheerful smile and immediately relaxes, relieved he didn't offend his guardian.

"So tell us about school, Seth," Sandy requests, knowing he missed out on his son's first week and wants to know if everything went smoothly.

"Well, unlike Ryan here... I'm not taking physics this semester..."

"Oh really? What are you taking?" Kirsten asks as she takes another helping of salad.

"Chemistry... which is just about as bad as physics," Seth mutters. "We got assigned lab partners yesterday... I got stuck with Dora Dabrowski. Do you know she has the entire periodic table memorized?"

Ryan laughs quietly to himself as he listens to his friend grumble.

"In Lit, we're starting off slow and tackling Shakespeare. I chose to read 'Much Ado About Nothing'," Seth says as he takes a couple of gulps of milk. "It's supposed to be a comedy. I thought the title sounded a lot like an episode of 'Seinfeld' so I figured... why not?"

"Anything else?" Sandy asks, deciding it best not to get into a conversation regarding classic literature with his son.

"Oh yeah, I decided not to try out for the gymnastics team," Seth announces as he places his empty glass down on the table and wipes his mouth with a napkin. "I figured you guys might want a grandchild someday."

Ryan wrinkles his brow and grimaces as he pictures Seth attempting to do the scissors on the pommel horse.

"That's very thoughtful of you, son," Sandy states as he begins to stand up from the dinner table when he hears the phone ring in the kitchen.

"I'll get it," Kirsten announces, wanting her husband to finish his dinner. "I'm stuffed... I don't think I can eat another bite."

Sandy watches as Kirsten leaves the dining room, then turns his attention over to Ryan.

"Ryan, I spoke with the doctors at Hoag and your Uncle Lenny can receive visitors next week. If you'd like to see him, I'd be more than happy to take you over there."

"Really? I'd love to see my uncle," Ryan replies, happy with the prospect of paying his uncle a visit and hoping his father's horrific act of revenge hasn't scarred him for life. "How is he doing?"

"The doctors feel that, with physical therapy, your uncle should make a full recovery," Sandy says, happy to give the boy some good news. "His jaw is still wired shut from surgery, though. He's communicating with a dry-erase board."

"That's okay... I really want to visit him, Sandy..."

"I knew you would," Sandy says with a thoughtful smile as he places his hand on Ryan's forearm and squeezes gently. "I'm working from home on Wednesday because Kirsten has to run some errands. I can take you over there in the afternoon."

"Sandy? Can you come in here? I need to talk to you..."

"Sure, honey..." Sandy replies, trying to mask the concern in his voice as he detects something may be wrong. "You boys can go watch a movie or play a game," Sandy proposes as he begins to gather up the dishes. "I'll handle the clean-up."

"So, what do you feel like doing?" Seth asks as he and Ryan start walking upstairs. "If you want to do more homework, that's okay... it's your choice."

"Really? My choice?" Ryan repeats, wanting to make sure he heard his friend correctly.

"Yeah... I've realized that I'm the one who usually decides what we do. Now it's your turn."

"Well, I don't know..."

"Ponder your decision very carefully, Ryan, but just remember what the doctor said," Seth states, wanting to make sure his friend hears his words loud and clear. "Dr. Morrison ordered you to take it easy, which means we can't have a contest on who can do the most chin-ups using your doorway 'iron gym total upper body workout' bar."

"Well, we can do some Playstation," Ryan suggests as he walks down the hall to Seth's bedroom. "I'm out of practice, so you'll have to take it easy on me."

"Your wish is my command..."

"Honey, what is it? What's wrong?" Sandy asks with concern as he brings the dirty dishes over to the kitchen sink.

"That was Mrs. Daniels on the phone... the social worker from the adoption agency..."

"Okay, sweetheart... take a deep breath," Sandy says, wanting his wife to calm down. "What did Mrs. Daniels say?"

"She wants to interview Ryan next week. Sandy, it's too soon! Dr. Evans still wants to prepare Ryan emotionally..."

"Alright, I'll give her a call... we'll work something out," Sandy reassures as he places the dishes on the counter and wraps his arms around his wife to comfort her. "I'm sure Mrs. Daniels will understand..."

"So, I'm uh... I'm sorry about earlier," Seth apologizes quietly as he tries to manuever his ninja out of harm's way. "I didn't mean to mess up all of your hard work."

"It's okay..."

"No, it's not okay... I had an impromptu, yet enlightening session of 'Father Knows Best' with Dad. Here I am pushing a school dance on you and other stuff, and you just got home from the hospital..."

"I know you were only trying to help," Ryan says as he presses a couple of buttons on his game controller.

"I guess... Hey, you just decapitated me!" Seth bemoans.

"Yeah... it felt kind of good..."

"Maybe for you," Seth grumbles as he waits impatiently for his ninja to respawn. "Is this your subtle way of telling me I talk too much?"

Seth glances over at his friend and suddenly becomes concerned. "Are you alright?"

Ryan sets his game controller down on the floor and runs his hands over his face. "I'm fine... I'm just really tired."

"I remember the doc lady said you could get tired easily. Maybe you should call it a day... we can pick this back up tomorrow."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Ryan agrees as he yawns and rubs his tired eyes. "I think I'll go downstairs, grab a bottled water and call it a night."

Seth watches as his friend gingerly gets up off the floor and start walking out of the room.

"Hey... um... remember, Ryan... I'm right here if you need anything... if you can't sleep or whatever, well... we're brothers, you know..." Seth stutters as he shuts off his gaming system and puts the controllers away. "I just want you to know I'm here for you."

Ryan turns around and smiles over at his friend. "Thanks, Seth... I appreciate it."

Ryan slowly makes his way downstairs and notices the light on in Sandy's office. He decides to make his way over and say "goodnight", but stops suddenly just outside the doorway when he overhears Kirsten's distressed voice.

"Did you talk to the social worker?" Kirsten asks her husband nervously. "Does she still want to come here next week to talk to Ryan?"

"She's agreed to wait awhile, but we can't put her off forever," Sandy replies with a deep sigh.

"This is all because of my father... damn him!"

Ryan feels a rush of anxiety course through his body as he slowly backs away from Sandy's office and makes his way up the stairs.

A social worker wants to talk to me, Ryan worries to himself as he makes his way back to his bedroom. Why... what have I done now?

"Sweetheart, we're going to work this out," Sandy assures as he wraps his arms lovingly around his wife. "Mrs. Daniels is just doing her job... she's being thorough and we need to cooperate."

"I know... I just don't want to lose him, Sandy..."

"We're not going to lose him," Sandy reassures as he places a gentle kiss on top of his wife's head. "This is strictly for the adoption procedure. They just want to make sure Ryan is in a good, secure and loving home."

"This is a good, secure and loving home, Sandy," Kirsten states emphatically. "Ryan belongs here... with us."

"I know he does, honey..." Sandy whispers in his wife's ear.

An odd feeling suddenly comes over Sandy as he continues to hug his wife.

"What is it?" Kirsten asks, sensing a slight change in her husband's demeanor.

"I think I'm going to check in on Ryan... say 'good night'... make sure he's alright..."

Kirsten looks up at her husband and smiles warmly, "I think that's an excellent idea..."

Sandy quietly makes his way up the staircase and walks down the dark hallway. He finds the dimmer switch he installed not long ago and turns it up slightly to illuminate the surroundings. He notices Seth's bedroom door is closed but Ryan's door is open just a crack. Sandy carefully peeks inside the dark room and looks around for the boy, then steps further in and waits for his eyes to adjust to the moonlit room. He sees the bed is empty and looks around for Ryan, then spots the boy kneeling on the floor, his chin perched upon his clenched fists, staring out the open window.

"Hey, kiddo... mind if I join you?" Sandy asks quietly, remembering the last time he and Ryan had a late night chat as he makes his way over to the window.

Sandy suddenly becomes concerned when he gets no response. He carefully sits down on the floor next to Ryan and looks out the window, hoping the boy will share his thoughts.

"I love this time of year... when the evenings become cooler..." Sandy sighs in a whisper, breaking the silence as he breathes in the sweet scent of the azalea bushes planted below in the garden.

Sandy glances over at Ryan and studies him intently, wishing he could read the boy's mind.

"I don't hear the crickets chirping tonight... it's probably too chilly..."

"Am I going to be taken away?" Ryan asks, interrupting his guardian as he continues to stare out the window.

"Taken away..." Sandy repeats, confused by the boy's question. "What in the world would give you that idea?"

"I overheard you and Kirsten talking..."

"Oh... I see," Sandy says, wondering how much of the conversation the boy overheard.

"Why does a social worker want to talk to me? Are they going to send me to a group home?"

"No... oh no, not at all," Sandy says reassuringly.

"Then why? Is it because of Mr. Nichol?" Ryan asks, his voice cracking slightly as he fights off his emotions. "You and Kirsten haven't done anything wrong..."

Sandy scoots in closer to Ryan and places his hand upon the boy's shoulder. "It does have to do with Caleb, but it's not what you're thinking..."

"I don't understand..."

"The social worker, Mrs. Daniels, wants to talk to you before..." Sandy sighs and runs his hand through his hair as he comes to the decision he needs to tell the boy about the adoption plans. "Ryan... Kirsten and I want to adopt you. We filed the papers awhile ago, when you were recovering from pnuemonia."

"You want to adopt me?"

"Yes, we do... very much so," Sandy replies with heartfelt sincerity. "Everything was going well... Kirsten and I were interviewed and the agency conducted a house inspection... they felt there was no need to talk to you until..."

Sandy notices the boy suddenly lower his head and silently curses his father-in-law under his breath.

"After Caleb was arrested, the agency felt they needed to place our petition to adopt you on hold, at least until they had the chance to talk to you."

Sandy places his hand on the back of Ryan's neck and runs his thumb gently over the boy's hairline. "Dr. Evans wanted to talk to you about this first, and then we were all going to sit down together."

When Sandy gets no response, he moves his hand down onto the boy's shoulder and squeezes gently. "Ryan... Kirsten and I... we consider you our son. Seth thinks of you as his brother. We love you..."

"I don't know what to say..."

"I understand this is a lot to take in..."

"But, you and Kirsten are already my legal guardians," Ryan points out as he turns and looks at Sandy.

"This is true... but it's not the same," Sandy states, feeling better now that the boy is making eye contact and talking. "Right now, Kirsten and I are responsible for you until you turn eighteen. I guess we're being selfish... we want something more."

Ryan bites his lower lip as he ponders over what his guardian is telling him.

"But, what about my mom? And Trey?"

"Dawn will always be your mother and Trey will always be your brother," Sandy assures the boy. "That, Ryan, will never change. They are family."

Sandy waits a moment in silence as he studies the boy intently, hoping he's made the right decision telling Ryan about the adoption plans.

"Ryan, we're not trying to take away your identity," Sandy says, carefully choosing his words. "You will always be 'Ryan Atwood'... you are the boy we love and want to call 'our son'."

"So, I'll have two brothers?" Ryan asks, making sure he understands what his guardian is telling him.

"Yes, you will..."

"And, two mothers?"

"Most definitely..." Sandy replies with a reassuring smile.

Ryan looks into Sandy's deep, blue eyes and smiles warmly at the man sitting next to him. "And one terrific father."

Sandy feels his heart swell with pride and joy when he hears Ryan's thoughtful words.

"Be careful what you say," Sandy teases gently. "You may not think I'm so 'terrific' if I have to ground you someday because you missed your curfew."

"Well, if you ever have to ground me for missing my curfew, that means you were waiting up late for me to come home," Ryan says, having never experienced being grounded, only hitting the ground after being on the receiving end of a firmly, well-placed punch to his face. "At least I would know you care."

"Maybe you could help me explain that concept to Seth..."

Ryan smiles and laughs softly as he looks into the playful twinkling in Sandy's eyes.

"And, you can still call me 'Sandy', or if you want... you can call me 'Dad'. Whatever you're comfortable with... it's your choice," Sandy continues as he gives the boy's shoulder another gentle squeeze. "You just can't call me some of the names Kirsten has called me in the past when she's been angry."

"Because I'd be grounded?"

"Oh yes... most definitely... for at least a year," Sandy replies with a wry smile.

Sandy sighs and relaxes as he feels a sense of contentment come over him. "Ryan, the simple fact is... we love you. Whatever happens... say, if the adoption doesn't go through... it doesn't change anything. You are a part of this family and we will always be here for you."

"I think I can live with that," Ryan says softly as he glances up at Sandy and smiles warmly. Ryan suddenly finds himself yawning as fatigue rapidly begins to set in.

"You need to get some sleep," Sandy orders as he gingerly makes his way up to a standing position, his creaking knees objecting every inch of the way.

Ryan makes his way to the bed and lays down, welcoming the comfort of the mattress and warmth of the blankets as he rests his weary head down upon the plush, soft pillow.

Sandy pulls a chair up next to the bed and sits down, feeling the need to stay with the boy just a bit longer.

"Sandy, you don't have to stay with me..."

"I know, but I want to... just for a little while, at least until you fall asleep," Sandy whispers quietly. "Do you want me to leave the hall light on and your bedroom door open a crack when I leave?"

"No, you don't have to," Ryan replies through a groggy yawn.

"Really? Are you sure?"

"I'm sure..." Ryan mumbles sleepily as he turns over on his side and curls up under the warm covers.

Sandy leans in and adjusts the blanket over Ryan's shoulders, then brushes the boy's bangs off his forehead.

"I don't need the hall light on anymore..." Ryan whispers as he closes his eyes and smiles contently.

I'm home...

-The End-

Thank you for all the support and feedback regarding my story. I've truly appreciated it. :-)

I'm actually toying with the idea of writing a third part and having it involve Trey since I've introduced the character in both this story and "To Be Seventeen". I figure I've tackled Dawn and Frank, why not go for the hat trick and tackle Trey. :-) My goal is to tie the three stories together so I'll be keeping most of the characters from this story. I'm still in the process of outlining a new story, but I think I have enough to at least get something started. It would also give me the opportunity to address Caleb's situation further and bring that story arch to a conclusion. And of course, as with everything I seem to write, more pain and suffering will be on the horizon for Ryan. ;-)